by Patrick T. Hiller
“There is no military solution to the conflict.” That was the conclusion reached by the Biden administration earlier this year, which set into motion the plans for the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by the end of August. Nearing the termination of this process, in a few short days we witnessed the collapse of the Afghan government, the takeover by the Taliban, desperate Afghans trying to flee the country or seeking other sorts of protection, and international NGO workers holing up in safe places in the capital Kabul weighing their options. What went wrong?
Do we need more proof to see the failure of war?
“No military solution” has always been a very popular phrase used by U.S. civilian and military leaders in the context of justifying militarism and wars. Nixon and Kissinger used it. In 2007 General Petraeus used it in the context of him taking charge of a 140,000 troops strong force in Iraq. In 2014, President Obama stated, “American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq, because there’s no American military solution to the larger crisis in Iraq,” using the same press briefing to justify his authorization of airstrikes to save lives.
The war in Afghanistan is the longest standing remnant of what started as the Global War on Terror. A war in which leaders constantly reassured the public that military force was necessary, while stating that there was no military solution.
A 2014 UN Security Council Resolution, for example, focusing on international collaboration to counter violent extremism with an emphasis on nonviolent alternative avenues for conflict prevention and resolution stated that, “terrorism will not be defeated by military force, law enforcement measures, and intelligence operations alone [my emphasis].” Not by military force alone. Let’s face it, when state leaders and generals hit the airwaves mostly unchallenged stating that there is no military solution to any given conflict, they are not seriously questioning the military approach.
Here’s the radically different approach, one that needs to be pursued in Afghanistan. Take the military option off the table. Demilitarize security and kick the door for peacebuilding wide open. Don’t fall back into the pattern of trying to address violence with bombs. At the top-level, diplomacy must prevail without the threat of war. Emergency humanitarian support needs to be provided when and where necessary. Peacebuilders on the ground in Afghanistan are calling on international partners to remain engaged and work with a complex security situation instead of falsely labeling actors as “good” and “bad,” to involve all who are part of the conflict, and to support locally led political and peace processes.
These are trying times for most Afghan people and those of the international community who have been engaged in humanitarian and peacebuilding work. The Taliban have a history of a brutal rule and committing atrocities against the Afghan people. They are not good for the Afghan people. Yet we need to remain steadfast in rejecting the expected calls to “get tough.” Those calls are merely a not-so-subtle way of saying it’s time to bomb and kill “the bad guys.”
Don’t blame what is happening now on the withdrawal of military forces that never should have been there. President Biden is right to pull out military forces occupying people who did not want to be occupied. Any sort of prolongation of the two-decade long occupation would not have changed a thing. Peacebuilding does, but there is no magic peace switch. This is where the Biden administration has a unique chance to change the course.
We must support peacebuilding efforts with the same rigor and resources applied to two decades of the military approaches. Let’s give the peacebuilders—locally and internationally—a chance to apply their tools, the resources they need, and the time processes of structural transformation take.
We must support the Afghan people who want to build their own democratic system and not ignore their agency during this crisis. There is a role for outsiders to support these processes in Afghanistan building on best practices of contemporary peacebuilding. The price tag, I can assure you, will only be a very tiny fraction of the hourly $32.08 million U.S. taxpayers are paying for total costs of war since 2001.
Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, Advisory Board member of World Beyond War, served on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association (2012-2016), is a member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and is Director of the War Prevention Initiativeof the Jubitz Family Foundation.
We’re happy to share this op-ed by our Research Intern Adam Arman. He argues that with the uptick in hate crimes against Asians, the misappropriated term “jihad” needs to be reclaimed as a way to build peace. Click here for the full op-ed:
Peace Education, not Patriotic Education
By Patrick T. Hiller
The President’s call to “restore patriotic education in our schools” via the creation of the “1776 Commission” aimed at controlling public school curricula once again set off my alarm bells. As a dual German-American citizen, I grew up in Germany and by design of the education system became very familiar with my birthplace’s history.
As a social scientist, I study processes of polarization, dehumanization, and demonization of others. I know from both personal experience and professional expertise that peace education counters those conditions which lead to violence.
Trump’s call for “patriotic education” is dangerous.
Instead, our schools need peace education to help contend with this moment of reckoning with racial and other forms of inequality in a genuinely inclusive way – and give our children the best opportunity to learn from the disastrous mistakes of the past.
As Germans we are still grappling with a genocidal history where both victims and perpetrators of the Holocaust are alive. I remember reading a children’s novel in school depicting the rise of the Nazis through the eyes of a German boy and his Jewish friend who tragically dies in a bomb raid huddled in the doorway of a bomb-proof bunker. The families who once happily lived alongside his family in an apartment building denied him entry, because it was their patriotic duty to protect the “German race.” His parents had already been arrested and most likely sent to be killed after those same neighbors reported them to authorities.
Later, in formal history classes, I got an unfiltered curriculum that laid bare that ordinary Germans became complicit in evil. And on multiple occasions I have stood in front of the patriotic sounding slogan “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”), marking the entrance gate of the concentration camp in Dachau.
I find it shocking that a recent report might indicate that “almost two-thirds of young American adults do not know that 6 million Jews were killed during the Holocaust.”
All Germans know what happened, and we certainly don’t ask for “patriotic education” that suits a white supremacist narrative about the history of the nation.
The takeover of the educational system played a key role in Nazi Germany. Schools were key instruments to solidify the Nazi power structures. The Nazi curriculums’ aims were to promote racial ideologies that ultimately justified the Holocaust. All took place in the context of “patriotic education” based on the supremacy of a so-called “pure” German race.
Trump’s remarks and plans take us on the same path by denying the realities of systematic racism on black, indigenous, and other people of color throughout U.S history – including the horrors of chattel slavery, forced displacement and genocide of native peoples, race-based immigration bans, and Japanese internment, for instance.
Instead of a dangerous “patriotic education,” peace education curricula emphasize the dignity of all people and aim to decrease direct violence—every day more than 100 Americans are killed with guns and 200 more are shot and wounded—and indirect violence. The latter, which social scientists also call “structural violence,” is the ongoing systematic discrimination and oppression that black, indigenous, people of color, LGBTQ, immigrants, Muslims, the poor, and other non-dominant groups face day after day, whether accompanied by overt racism or not.
Peace education includes all forms of formal education ranging from kindergarten through doctoral programs. Case studies on peace education in different contexts have already shown how impactful it could be in the current US context. Peace education programs have proven to be a successful way to educate about and overcome social inequality, peace education is capable of addressing even the most protracted problems, and peace education can challenge historical narratives which justify and normalize past and present forms of oppression and violence.
There is no magic switch to turn on peace education nationwide. Many schools, however, already have peer-mediation, anti-bullying, and conflict resolution mechanisms or simply adopted principles of inclusion, kindness, and respect—as I observe in my son’s elementary school in a small town in Oregon.
There is still a need to create further public awareness and political support for the introduction of more formal peace education curricula throughout all areas of education.
The Global Campaign for Peace Education is extremely helpful and can be used as a starting point for anyone uncomfortable with Trump’s push for “patriotic education” to start a conversation in the community, with school boards, or with local and national elected officials.
The German history of “patriotic education” and Trump’s current demand that “our youth will be taught to love America,” requires resounding pushback so that our youth do not grow into a new generation of fascists.
Remember the book burning scene in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade? While it was entertaining and a mockery of the Nazi ideology, the historical context of this scene was a very real and very scary nationwide “Aktion wider den undeutschen Geist” (Action against un-German spirit). Are you confident to put it beyond Trump and his enablers to literally or through policies initiate book burnings? I have seen too much in the last three years, and so I will not.
Republished with the permission of PeaceVoice.
Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, Advisory Board member of World Beyond War, served on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association (2012-2016), is a member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and is Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.
by Kristin Henderson
Using a war narrative to talk about COVID-19 plays into the hands of white supremacist groups. U.S. officials and the media should stop it.
Fighting a war is not an appropriate metaphor for navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Framing this crisis as a war puts Americans at greater risk of violence in their own communities. In the midst of this pandemic, far-right extremists are staging armed protests, while targeted racial attacks are on the rise.
War is inherently divisive, built around a good “us” versus bad “them” mentality. President Trump’s racist mislabeling of COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus,” coupled with his war metaphor is demonstrably dangerous. By blaming COVID-19 on China, he is signaling that they are the enemy of this “war.” As a result, hate crimes and violence against Asian Americans have surged.
Calling attention to racial differences and vilifying nonwhite groups is standard practice for most far-right extremists. Khury Petersen-Smith of Institute for Policy Studies draws the connection, asserting that President Trump is embracing far-right talking points when discussing the virus.
Not only is our president echoing far-right sentiment, he has also been accused of encouraging far-right violence and fomenting domestic rebellion. Online extremists view his recent ‘LIBERATE’ tweets as a call to arms. Ignorance and indulgence in conspiracy theories — both of which Trump is regularly guilty — will not benefit Americans.
A global pandemic and an imagined war beget uncertainty and fear, both of which are textbook recruitment tools for far-right extremists. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has reported that these groups view the pandemic as an opportunity to expand their ranks. As Cassie Miller of SPLC explains, “these far-right extremists are arguing that the pandemic, which has thrown into question the federal government’s ability to steer the nation through a crisis, supports their argument that modern society is headed toward collapse.” Many of them subscribe to accelerationism — a fringe philosophy that promotes mass violence to hasten the collapse of our society. In online chat forums, these groups frequently discuss plans to use the virus to infect people of color and target medical facilities.
Disturbingly, we can see this discourse playing out in real time. Recently, a well-known far-right figure planned an attack on a Missouri hospital treating COVID-19 patients. He was subsequently killed in a shootout with the FBI. White supremacist terrorists also planned to fill spray bottles with COVID-19 infected saliva and use it as a bioweapon to target people of color according to intelligence briefings by federal law enforcement.
Violent white extremists view this pandemic as an opportunity, and they are eager to take it. Ginning up sentiments of war emboldens them. Such rhetoric is dangerous and can lead to more deaths. One of the most important things we can do, right now, to stymie these groups is to reject the war metaphor and talk about COVID-19 in a more accurate way.
U.S. officials and the media should adhere to accuracy and transparency when sharing information about the virus and its impact. It is okay to admit what we do not know. In line with a feminist perspective, leaders should be speaking in terms of solidarity and interdependence, not division and fear. They should also be pushing back against separation ideologies. During a pandemic, we have no choice but to rely upon one another for our individual safety. Mainstream media outlets ought to be reminding Americans that we are in this together, and highlighting examples of collective action that has slowed the spread of the virus.
Saving lives is the most important thing we can do in response to this crisis. Messaging matters, and a message of war does not save lives. A war, after all, implies a violent fight between groups leading to large number of casualties. White supremacists are seizing on this pandemic and the war narrative to justify their violence and bolster their ranks. But this pandemic is not a fight between people. This is a challenge for all of humanity to overcome united.
Kristin Henderson is the Project Manager for War Prevention Initiative based in Portland, OR.
Republished with the permission of PeaceVoice
by Kathy Kelly
U.S. sanctions against Iran, cruelly strengthened in March of 2018, continue a collective punishment of extremely vulnerable people. Presently, the U.S. “maximum pressure” policy severely undermines Iranian efforts to cope with the ravages of COVID-19, causing hardship and tragedy while contributing to the global spread of the pandemic. On March 12, 2020, Iran’s Foreign Minister Jawad Zarif urged member states of the UN to end the United States’ unconscionable and lethal economic warfare.
Addressing UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Zarif detailed how U.S. economic sanctions prevent Iranians from importing necessary medicine and medical equipment.
For over two years, while the U.S. bullied other countries to refrain from purchasing Iranian oil, Iranians have coped with crippling economic decline.
The devastated economy and worsening coronavirus outbreak now drive migrants and refugees, who number in the millions, back to Afghanistan at dramatically increased rates.
In the past two weeks alone, more than 50,000 Afghans returned from Iran, increasing the likelihood that cases of coronavirus will surge in Afghanistan. Decades of war, including U.S. invasion and occupation, have decimated Afghanistan’s health care and food distribution systems.
Jawad Zarif asks the UN to prevent the use of hunger and disease as a weapon of war. His letter demonstrates the wreckage caused by many decades of United States imperialism and suggests revolutionary steps toward dismantling the United States war machine.
During the United States’ 1991 “Desert Storm” war against Iraq, I was part of the Gulf Peace Team, – at first, living at in a “peace camp” set up near the Iraq-Saudi border and later, following our removal by Iraqi troops, in a Baghdad hotel which formerly housed many journalists. Finding an abandoned typewriter, we melted a candle onto its rim, (the U.S. had destroyed Iraq’s electrical stations, and most of the hotel rooms were pitch black). We compensated for an absent typewriter ribbon by placing a sheet of red carbon paper over our stationery. When Iraqi authorities realized we managed to type our document, they asked if we would type their letter to the Secretary General of the UN. (Iraq was so beleaguered even cabinet level officials lacked typewriter ribbons.) The letter to Javier Perez de Cuellar implored the UN to prevent the U.S. from bombing a road between Iraq and Jordan, the only way out for refugees and the only way in for humanitarian relief. Devastated by bombing and already bereft of supplies, Iraq was, in 1991, only one year into a deadly sanctions regime that lasted for 13 years before the U.S. began its full-scale invasion and occupation in 2003. Now, in 2020, Iraqis still suffering from impoverishment, displacement and war earnestly want the U.S. to practice self-distancing and leave their country.
Are we now living in a watershed time? An unstoppable, deadly virus ignores any borders the U.S. tries to reinforce or redraw. The United States military-industrial complex, with its massive arsenals and cruel capacity for siege, isn’t relevant to “security” needs. Why should the U.S., at this crucial juncture, approach other countries with threat and force and presume a right to preserve global inequities? Such arrogance doesn’t even ensure security for the United States military. If the U.S. further isolates and batters Iran, conditions will worsen in Afghanistan and United States troops stationed there will ultimately be at risk. The simple observation, “We are all part of one another,” becomes acutely evident.
It’s helpful to think of guidance from past leaders who faced wars and pandemics. The Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-19, coupled with the atrocities of World War I, killed 50 million worldwide, 675,000 in the U.S. Thousands of female nurseswere on the “front lines,” delivering health care. Among them were black nurses who not only risked their lives to practice the works of mercy but also fought discrimination and racism in their determination to serve. These brave women arduously paved a way for the first 18 black nurses to serve in the Army Nurse Corps and they provided “a small turning point in the continuing movement for health equity.”
In the spring of 1919, Jane Addams and Alice Hamilton witnessed the effects of sanctions against Germany imposed by Allied forces after World War I. They observed “critical shortages of food, soap and medical supplies” and wrote indignantly about how children were being punished with starvation for “the sins of statesmen.”
Starvation continued even after the blockade was finally lifted, that summer, with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Hamilton and Addams reported how the flu epidemic, exacerbated in its spread by starvation and post-war devastation, in turn disrupted the food supply. The two women argued a policy of sensible food distribution was necessary for both humanitarian and strategic reasons. “What was to be gained by starving more children?” bewildered German parents asked them.
Jonathan Whitall directs Humanitarian Analysis for Médecins Sans Frontières / Doctors without Borders. His most recent analysis poses agonizing questions:
How are you supposed to wash your hands regularly if you have no running water or soap? How are you supposed to implement ‘social distancing’ if you live in a slum or a refugee or containment camp? How are you supposed to stay at home if your work pays by the hour and requires you to show up? How are you supposed to stop crossing borders if you are fleeing from war? How are you supposed to get tested for #COVID19 if the health system is privatized and you can’t afford it? How are those with pre-existing health conditions supposed to take extra precautions when they already can’t even access the treatment they need?
I expect many people worldwide, during the spread of COVID – 19, are thinking hard about the glaring, deadly inequalities in our societies, wonder how best to extend proverbial hands of friendship to people in need while urged to accept isolation and social distancing. One way to help others survive is to insist the United States lift sanctions against Iran and instead support acts of practical care. Jointly confront the coronavirus while constructing a humane future for the world without wasting time or resources on the continuation of brutal wars.
by Kevin Martin
“Social distancing” (or maybe more properly “appropriate physical spacing”) is something people everywhere need to practice in the near term to get through the Covid-19 crisis. And it likely won’t be the last time, unfortunately, that a pandemic threatens us.
But in a broader sense, isn’t “social distancing” a serious, endemic problem? We’re too “distant” from most people other than family and close friends, in terms of understanding, respect, solidarity and empathy. (We’re also too distant from other species and our natural world, our Mother Earth.) The dominant culture “others” people of different skin colors, countries, religions, classes, sexual orientations, gender identifications and other characteristics that strengthen, rather than divide, the human family. Let’s get through this crisis, and then let’s decrease the distance between us, let’s overcome the walls we erect between us.
While this certainly applies to domestic tranquility, it also can guide the way to positive, badly needed changes in US foreign and military policy.
Last week, the US engaged in tit for tat bombing against Iranian-backed militia in Iraq, in retaliation for the killing of two US soldiers and one British soldier by said militia, which was likely retaliation for the US assassination of Iranian military leader Qasem Soleimani, which was likely retaliation for…and ad nauseam. Apparently, while there are conflicting reports, the strikes also killed Iraqi three Iraqi soldiers, two police officers and a civilian worker, and hit a civilian airport. So, the US is the latest to kill in this fool’s game, setting it up for the Iranian deadly response.
How is this endless cycle of violence promoting US or regional security? Similar strikes nearly led to the outbreak of war with Iran just two months ago, and a region already in constant turmoil, largely due to US militaristic misadventures, can ill afford more.
Nor can we. Nobody ever asks, but what did these military strikes cost, and how will we pay for them? Surely the price tag is a pittance compared to the 6.4 trillion dollars the US has squandered in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last few decades, for no good outcome considering many if not most Iraqis want us gone, and as we try to construct a fragile peace in Afghanistan.
How badly does it have to be bungled, after all, to cause Iraqi feelings of nostalgia for Saddam? How inept does it get to make the Taliban popular in parts of Afghanistan and also make the Afghans deeply and angrily distrust and reject the deal between Trump and the Taliban?
The US and South Korea wisely postponed huge military drills, originally scheduled to begin later this month, out of Covid-19 concerns. Postponement is good, but cancellation would be better, and might help spur a revival of peace talks with North Korea, as even President Trump has acknowledged the war exercises are expensive and provocative. Just this week, the Pentagon announced a curtailment of the largest military exercises in Europe in a generation, and again, cancellation would be better. Russia certainly knows how fearsome the US/NATO military alliance is, we don’t need to demonstrate it at huge economic, human and environmental costs.
As the world faces the frightening Covid-19 pandemic, we need global cooperation, not military escalation. Resources wasted on continuous, fruitless military conflict are desperately needed for human health, in the US and globally.
US economic sanctions are exacerbating the severe Covid-19 crisis in Iran, which is just cruel and likely a crime against humanity, again serving no legitimate US or regional security objective. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama eased US economic sanctions and restrictions on humanitarian aid to Iran following devastating earthquakes there in 2003 and 2012. In the current situation, President Trump (who foolishly ended US participation in the multilateral, highly effective Iran anti-nuclear agreement and then threatened to commit war crimes) should do the same, to help Iran’s medical system address the crisis. Perhaps we could learn from Iran’s experience, as pandemics know no borders, and different countries may have relative strengths or successes we can all learn from.
Let’s get all US troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan, make peace with Iran, and address the real threats to human security like pandemics and the climate crisis. More war is never a good answer, and it makes even less sense at this time.
By Patrick T. Hiller
In the wake of the assassination of Iranian military leader Major General Qasem Soleimani and nine other people by a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, tensions between the United States and Iran are at their height. The immediate threat of war is real. Real-time news and expert commentary across the nationwide spectrum of media outlets probably have the heads of American citizens spinning. When things are moving so fast, perhaps it is best to move away from the ever-changing and confusing real-time commentary about what should happen and what will happen. Let’s look for the obvious reasons for not going to war with Iran. Here are eight:
First, Iranians are not our enemies. We must start looking at Iran as a country with 80 million people who are not our enemies, instead of an entity reduced to “bad guys” who need to be “eliminated.” If war starts, civilians will bear the brunt of it and we must do everything in our power and in our respective spheres of influence to prevent that from happening.
Second, war is destructive. War means introducing weapons, conducting air strikes, and sending combat troops. It is the use of deadly force on a massive scale. Wars are by nature destructive. There is violence, death, and suffering. In other words, we are talking about a complete oxymoron when declaring the intention to defend life and make us more secure, while actively taking lives.
Third, the human costs of war are too high. Approximately 800,000 people have been counted as direct war deaths in major war zones in the post 9/11 wars. That’s almost the population of Indianapolis, Charlotte, or San Francisco. According the Brown University’s Costs of War Project, “war deaths from malnutrition, and a damaged health system and environment likely far outnumber deaths from combat”. In addition, 21 million people are war refugees and displaced persons. That’s the population of Florida.
Fourth, the economic costs are too high. Through fiscal year 2019, the US has spent or obligated almost six trillion dollars on the wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. The National Priorities Projects estimates that taxpayers in the United States are paying $32 million every hour for the total costs of war. These tax dollars could be used to pay elementary school teachers, create clean energy jobs, jobs supporting high poverty community, providing better VA medical car, providing low-income healthcare, and many other domestic trade-offs.
Fifth, the assassination and further acts or war against Iran are illegal. As Yale Law Professor Oona Hathaway argues, the attack on Soleimani was missing both domestic and international legal authorization. At home, Congress is the only branch of government authorized to declare war. The representatives of the American people were completely cut out and denied their authority by the Trump administration. Moreover, the United Nations Security Council would have had to approve the use of force. The Trump administration initiated an act of war without any approval.
Sixth, war makes us less secure. Or how would you explain Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell’s prayers with “all American diplomats, personnel, and brave servicemembers serving in Iraq and the Middle East”. He certainly doesn’t display any confidence about their security. Or how would you explain the State Department’s urgent request for all Americans to immediately leave Iraq after the US drone attack? Retired Army Colonel and US diplomat Ann Wright lists 36 bases with US military forces in 14 countries that are neighbors with Iran as targets for retaliation. One thing is certain, the Iranian government will consider a calculated response proportionate to the killing of Soleimani. When it happens, and how it will happen is unclear, but it will be opposite to the positive developments toward common security that came with the so-called Iran Nuclear Deal.
Seventh, wars are often based on lies and provocation. The US has a history of both. The Gulf of Tonkin incident was used to falsely justify war against Vietnam. Iraq was invaded in 2003 under the false pretext of Saddam Hussein developing weapons of mass destruction. The Washington Post is tracking the President’s claims and has found more than 15,000 false or misleading claims since assuming office. Now we should believe and trust in President Trump and his claim that this assassination took place to prevent war? Even without considering the domestic pressure of an impeached President, it would be foolish to believe someone who lies about everything as long as it is politically expedient.
Eighth, going to war with Iran is immoral. The assassination of Soleimani and nine others was murder. War with Iran would be nothing other than murder on a large scale. Much of the debate right now revolves around General Soleimani being a “bad guy.” We don’t have to disagree with that assessment while still advocating for diplomacy and peaceful approaches and certainly rejecting his targeted assassination. If war starts, civilians more than combatants will die and suffer. Large-scale killing, wounding, impoverishing, making homeless, orphaning, and traumatizing of people is immoral.
This brings me back to point one: Iranians are not our enemies.
Patrick. T. Hiller, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a Conflict Transformation scholar, professor, served on the Governing Council of the International Peace Research Association (2012-2016), member of the Peace and Security Funders Group, and Director of the War Prevention Initiative of the Jubitz Family Foundation.
Published and distributed by PeaceVoice. Available for reprint.
In his recent commentary published by the German Rubikon magazine, War Prevention Initiative Executive Director Patrick Hiller argues that Germany and other European nations need to behave independently at the threshold of war, be courageous and assume a moral leadership beyond Iran, embracing global stability and security. There must be no “coalition of the willing” but the designation of the US as a pariah when it comes to international peace and international stability. You can read the German commentary here:
Published on Monday, July 01, 2019 by PeaceVoice
by J.P. Linstroth
In the history of the United States and its history of interventionism, the recent attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman seem to be foreboding and ominous signs of what may come—an inevitable war with the Islamic Republic of Iran? To many who are watching the region closely, it is still unclear if Iran is behind such attacks. Moreover, and, thankfully, President Donald J. Trump backed away from bombing Iran after the Iranians allegedly and recently shot down a U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz.
Even so, the bellicose rhetoric between President Trump (threatening Iran’s “obliteration”) and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani (calling Trump “mentally retarded”) have continued. Watching from the sidelines, everyone hopes diplomacy will prevail.
Let us examine U.S. interventionism past more closely. I know of four clear international instances where the United States intervened under dubious circumstances, initiating war.
The first happened just before the beginning of the Mexican-American War (1846-1848). President James K. Polk sent American troops to the Rio Grande River under the command of Zachary Taylor. The Mexicans had believed that the border had been at the Nueces River, not the Rio Grande, the Nueces being significantly north of the Rio Grande. This move was provocative and incited Mexican forces to attack the U.S. Army at its fortifications on the Rio Grande in 1846. As the attacks on U.S. soldiers were reported by Taylor to Polk, the U.S. Congress promptly declared war on Mexico.
Yet, in understanding these incidents, we have to likewise understand the motivations of the historical actors. Polk strongly believed in the Manifest Destiny of the United States to conquer the territories west of the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, Polk initially sent U.S. Congressman John Slidell as U.S. envoy to Mexico to negotiate buying the territories of California and New Mexico from Mexico for about $30 million. (The California and New Mexico territories included present-day California and New Mexico plus Arizona, Utah, Nevada, and parts of Colorado.) But Mexican legislators balked at the offer and Mexican newspapers printed the offer as an insult to Mexican pride. The rejected buy simply became war of territorial conquest.
At the end of the 19th century was the Spanish-American War of 1898, when the United States made its debut as an imperialistic world power, seeking its own colonies despite rejecting empire with the American Revolution. Congress declared war on Spain after the U.S.S. Maine was blown up in Havana Harbor. With no evidence, the U.S. blamed Spain and the war was on—not just for Cuba, but for other Spanish colonies, and the U.S. thus acquired Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico.
However, in all likelihood, the ship exploded because of an accident, possibly, a spark from the furnace setting off munitions nearby. Or, a mine in Havana Harbor planted by Cuban rebels detonated the hull of the vessel. In total, 261 sailors lost their lives from the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine. Yet, the causes of the war had more to do with the sensationalism of newspapers at the time owned by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, called “Yellow Journalism”—what we call today, “fake news.” Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers were publishing stories about Spanish atrocities in Cuba. Moreover, there was the supposed “de Lôme letter” allegedly a critical letter of President William McKinley, written by the Spanish Foreign Minister Enrique Dupuy de Lôme. All of these events “justified” war with Spain.
There was also the “Gulf of Tonkin incident” which began and escalated the Vietnam War under President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964. The incident was allegedly a series of attacks by Northern Vietnamese naval torpedo vessels on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin, especially involving a destroyer, the U.S.S. Maddox. These skirmishes were said to have occurred on August 2 and August 4, 1964, with the second clash now believed to be entirely imaginary. The falsity of the Gulf of Tonkin incidents was allegedly substantiated by former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and the former Vietnam People’s Army General Võ Nguyên Giáp. The Gulf of Tonkin skirmishes with the U.S. Navy and the Northern Vietnamese Navy led to the U.S. Congress passing the “Gulf of Tonkin Resolution.” It gave President Johnson: “…all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the United States and to prevent further aggression.”
And lastly, there is the Iraq War (2003-2011). The United States invaded Iraq on the false pretext that Iraqi President, Saddam Hussein, was actively developing a program for obtaining alleged WMDs. The United Nations Security Council had earlier passed two resolutions (678 and 687) which allowed the United States to force Iraq into complying with its international agreements, concerning biochemical and nuclear disarmament; both the UN head of inspections and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iraq had no more weapons of mass destruction, yet the U.S. invaded. What is more, the intelligence community tried linking the Hussein government with Al-Qaeda, patently false. As a result of the George W. Bush Administration’s War in Iraq, there were nearly 4,500 U.S. soldier deaths and almost 32,000 U.S. soldiers wounded in action.
So, this brings us to today with our military escalation with Iran under the Donald J. Trump Administration. Currently, we have deployed an aircraft carrier to the Arabian Sea as well as sending a Patriot missile defense system and four B-52 bombers to the region along with ordering the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad with the exception of essential personnel. According to Middle East expert Ilan Goldenberg Iran does not want a war with the United States. The question is whether we are forcing the situation, or unnecessarily exaggerating the threats from Iran. Certainly, it may depend upon how much National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo advocate for war. As Goldenberg states: “The bad news is that a war could still happen. Even if neither side wants to fight, miscalculation, missed signals, and the logic of escalation could conspire to turn even a minor clash into a regional conflagration—with devastating effects for Iran, the United States, and the Middle East.”
My worry, along with many other observers, is that such a conflict may snowball into a worse conflagration bringing in other international actors, maybe Russia. Neither the attack on these oil tankers nor the alleged shoot-down of an unmanned US drone so far has not led to any Gulf of Tonkin resolution. However, if another incident occurred causing Americans casualties and Iran was the claimed culprit, then the situation may get out of control.
For now, we can only hope from a distance that cooler heads in Washington, D.C. will prevail. We can certainly listen to diplomatic efforts of the likes of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that Iran does not want war with the United States and its coalition partners. We can examine the U.S. history of interventionism and learn from our past military mistakes.
If you are concerned about this pattern of provoking war by making claims that cannot be proven, please participate in your democracy:
Here is a petition against this possible war that you can sign online: https://www.change.org/p/stop-war-with-iran
Write a quick note to your US Senators: https://www.senate.gov/senators/How_to_correspond_senators.htm
Send your thoughts to your member of Congress: https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
J. P. Linstroth, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is the author of Marching Against Gender Practice: Political Imaginings in the Basqueland (2015).
When foreign policy as we know it isn’t working, creative citizen diplomacy can step in to humanize the real people who would be most impacted by war.
Follow the link bellow to read the entire commentary by War Prevention Initiative Executive Director Patrick Hiller on Foreign Policy in Focus: